As Hillary Clinton starts to fade away, or so it appears, John McCain faces both new obstacles and opportunities in his quest for the White House. The question is, will he be "helped" in the same way Bob Dole was in 1996?
Dole was one of the better nominees the GOP has put forth in modern times. He was (and is) bright, witty, conservative and independent.
Oops. Did I say independent? That was his problem.
The Republican establishment generally doesn't like independence. President George H.W. Bush could barely stand Newt Gingrich in Gingrich's pre-Speaker years as House GOP Whip. Gingrich was far too independent in his thinking and too "out there" in his style.
And, I must admit, Gingrich's decision to stare down Bill Clinton over the federal budget in 1995, leading to the so-called "shutdown" of government, drew negative reviews by the general public. Never mind that the reaction to the shutdown was mainly because the media grossly misportrayed it.
As Gingrich's popularity dropped, the Democrats very smartly decided to run TV ads in the late winter of 1996 that linked Bob Dole to Newt Gingrich. The ads were destroying Dole in the presidential race, but GOP leaders claimed there was no money available to counter the attacks.
Sure there wasn't. The truth is that Dole got a lot of halfhearted lip service from many establishment Republicans, who had no real desire to see him occupy the White House.
Why? Because they knew they couldn't control him. They also had another candidate in mind for the Oval Office; one who needed more time to earn credibility as one who could govern. His name was George W. Bush.
I witnessed firsthand the halfhearted effort to make Bob Dole little more than a token candidate in 1996. It was a complete shame. The man deserved better.
So now we come to John McCain. He's known to be a bit testy behind the scenes, but he's also very bright and witty, and has running through him a wide streak of independence.
Oops. Here we go again. It's that independence thing.
Looking over the events of the last month, a time in which John McCain has known he has the GOP nomination in hand, I've observed several things.
For one, there has been a push to bring "the big boys" into the McCain strategic camp. That always happens. The same old gang that has run things forever wants their team of strategists to be a "part of the team." And the outsider, McCain, feels grateful to have their support, so he gladly accepts the offer.
Sometimes that's good, most times it's not.